Animal Assisted Therapy Within Society Is It Helpful To Those Who Seek Its Services Literature Review Chapter


¶ … Society Feels About Animals As a first order primate, humans have a natural affinity with animals of all types that has contributed to their mutual relationships throughout history. In fact, animals of different types have been since the time of the ancient Greeks to improve the emotional and functional status of humans (Mccauley, 2006, p. 358). Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) has grown in popularity in recent years based on its proven efficacy in treating a wide range of healthcare and mental health conditions. Although dogs and cats are most commonly used in AAT settings, horses, rabbits and even fish can also be used. For instance, according to Macauley, "The use of animals ranges from companion animals that provide camaraderie and emotional support to assistance animals that provide direct physical-functional support to therapy animals that aid with the habilitation-rehabilitation in physical, occupational, speech-language, and recreation therapy" (2006, p. 358). Moreover, some researchers argue that humans have been forging relationships "since time immemorial" and that animals have served human society three broad capacities ever since: as teachers, as healers, and as companions and friends" (Pattnaik, 2004, p. 95).

The use of animals for therapeutic applications is referred to as an animal-assisted therapy (AAT) which by definition specifically incorporates animals into the therapeutic process (Chandler & Portrie-Bethke, 2010). The animals that are used in AAT have a human handler who also serves as a counselor or therapist; the human half of the animal-human AAT duo is responsible for the provision of compassionate and stimulating counseling to facilitate the recovery of the participants (Chandler & Portrie-Bethke, 2010). In this regard, Obrusnikova, Bibik and Cavalier report that, "Using therapy dog teams in school and therapeutic settings for children with disabilities is becoming increasingly popular. A therapy dog team consists of a specially trained dog and her or his owner (called a handler)" (2012, p. 37). The animals used in AAT applications typically include counseling, physical therapy, and occupational therapy (Chandler & Portrie-Bethke, 2010).

How society feels about those with disabilities

The disabled in American society are akin to the homeless; they are out of sight and out of mind until the problem strikes someone or their families and friends personally. Unfortunately, many disabled people in America are also among the legions of homeless, making them doubly invisible to American society. People with mental illnesses in particular are stigmatized, and the general feeling exists that these individuals are more of a burden than they are contributing members of American society (Stumbo, 2013). In this regard, Ritz reports that, "While many members of the community believe that persons who are mentally ill are being taken care of and are adequately accommodated and protected by the law, they are not" (2003, p. 264). According to one clinician's guidance concerning society's view of the disabled: "Stigma involves adverse reactions to the perception of a difference which is negatively evaluated. The adverse reactions to these differences are derived from cultural norms and expectations, and can result in structural disadvantages and psychological distress for individuals who are stigmatized" (Green, 2007, p. 328).

The "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" quality of many disabled people, especially those with mental illnesses, also contributes to their inability to obtain the medical care they need. As Ritz points out, "Persons with mental illness face stigma and severely limited opportunities for medical treatment. Lack of access to basic mental heath care is a significant barrier" (2003, p. 264). The implications of these attitudes concerning the disabled are severe. Indeed, Bleich cites that "rejecting and alienating attitudes of society towards the disabled in general and the psychiatrically impaired in particular" in making the "physically and mentally disabled socially marginal" (2004, p. 235).

What is the human-animal bond?

As noted above, the practice of using animals to promote the emotional and functional status of humans is ancient and so too is the human-animal bond. In this regard, Pattnaik reports that, "Both ancient and modern cultures emphasize the importance of animals to the human society" (2004, p. 95). This bond may have been strengthened early on in human history by the practice of drinking cow's milk by human infants which some researchers believe "created an intense bond between humans and other animals; by seeking the milk of another species to nourish their young, humans were effectively using cattle as wet-nurses" (Swabe, 1999, p. 51).

Other researchers have suggested that animals assumed a protective role for humans thousands of years ago that forged a strong human-animal bond; while the modern...


In this regard, Toray reports that, "Although currently that bond may not assure survival, it often results in companionship, unconditional love, and even vital daily assistance for persons with disabilities" (2004, p. 244).
The human-animal bond, though, is unique to the individual and animal involved, and because every patient and animal is different, this bonding experience will also differ in ways that defy ready description and analysis. For instance, Risley-Curtiss, Holley and Wolf (2006) report that, "An ever-increasing body of literature suggests that affectionate relationships with animal companions have health-enhancing effects on people and enrich their quality of life" (p. 257). In fact, Lawrence emphasizes that, "Humankind is not the exclusively rational, materialistic being as is sometimes assumed, and our bond with animals emanates partly from the deep levels of our consciousness, originating from the same kind of experience as myth, folklore, and poetry, whose languages are symbolic" (2004, p. 47).

Generally speaking, the term "human-animal bond" is used to describe the relationships humans have with the animals, which are typically companion animals or pets (Toray, 2004). According to Toray, "This bond involves an emotional attachment to a pet as well as a genuine feeling of affection and a responsibility for the well-being of the animal" (2004, p. 245). These differences in the type and level of the human-animal bond are also accentuated by the different types of therapy animals that are used, which can include turtles, chicks, rabbits, birds, cats, potbellied pigs, fish (in aquaria), dogs, and horses (Chander & Portrie-Bethke, 2010, p. 355). Some salient examples of the human-animal bond include (a) the physical and mental health benefits of companion animals, (b) the place of companion animals in the family system, (c) the significance of cruelty against animals as a predictor of future violent behaviour and (d) the therapeutic impact of animal-assisted therapy across a range of contexts (Evans & Gray, 2012, p. 600).

The depth of the human-animal bond will also depend on the specific animal that is used in the therapeutic intervention. In this regard, Chandler and Portrie-Bethke report that, "Each animal has specific skills, temperaments, and aptitudes that it brings to the therapy environment. For example, dogs are very friendly and facilitate communication and interaction, while horses offer a riding experience that facilitates the normalization of muscle tone" (2010, p. 355). Developing a human-animal bond is especially important for patients that may experience difficulties forging a therapeutic relationship with another individual. For example, Chandler and Portrie-Bethke emphasize that, "The power of the client therapy animal relationship for promoting the therapeutic alliance is particularly notable when clients are unable or unwilling to form a relationship with a human counselor" (2010, p. 355). Likewise, Pattnaik reports that, "Researchers in the United States have reported a host of benefits that accrue from the child-animal relationship, including the developmental benefits" (2004, p. 96).

What is society's view of using animals to help those with disabilities?

As noted above, humans have an ancient relationship with animals that provides a sound basis for their use in helping those with disabilities. In fact, the first recorded use of animals for therapeutic applications is John Locke's recommendation in 1699 to "give children dogs, squirrels, birds, or any such thing as to look after as a means of encouraging them to develop tender feelings and a sense of responsibility for others" (Parshall, 2003, p. 47). Thereafter, a Quaker retreat in England used farm animals for therapeutic purposes for its residents in 1792 as well as in 1867 when farm animals were used in Germany at a Bethel community. According to Parshall, "In the United States, animals were first used therapeutically in the 1940s at an Air Force Convalescent Hospital in New York City. The use of animals at these sites was to promote the patients' well-being by allowing them to observe, take care of, and touch the animals" (2003, p. 47). More recently, service dogs have been used to treat returning combat veterans for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Becker, 2013). In fact, AAT with veterans suffering from PTSD has been found to be among the safest and most cost-effective interventions that are available. According to Becker, "Service dogs have only recently been trained to perform tasks that can help PTSD sufferers. These include creating a buffer in public places, waking a veteran from a nightmare, or lying on the chest of someone having a panic attack until the person calms down" (2013, p. 1). These benefits of AAT prompted the Department…

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